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Feds credit state on welfare aid

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, along with private contractors handling the eligibility process, have improved the time it takes to process food stamp applications, according to a new letter from the federal government released Wednesday.

But that improvement didn’t sway Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jill Long Thompson from promising to review this privatization and contracts that have outsourced other state functions.

A letter sent by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service clarified that an earlier memo sent on timeliness problems used outdated data from the period of March 2007 through August 2007.

It showed that 83 percent of the time the state met the timeliness goal of turning applications around in 30 days. But that was before the state privatized a large portion of the eligibility process.

The state awarded a team of vendors – led by IBM Corp. and Affiliated Computer Services Inc. – a $1.16 billion, 10-year contract to process applications for Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits.

Then FSSA piloted the welfare changes in a 12-county region of north-central Indiana in October, later expanding it to all but 33 counties in northern and central Indiana by May.

FSSA follows a 60-day standard for approving food stamp applications rather than the 30-day standard followed by FNS and most states, but the agency has scheduled a public hearing Sept. 4 to consider changing Indiana’s rule to 30 days.

The latest letter from the Food and Nutrition Service shows that from August 2007 through January 2008, Indiana improved its timeliness rate to nearly 89 percent.

States falling below 90 percent compliance must have a corrective action plan.

“We’re doing better, but we are not where we want to be yet,” said Mitch Roob, secretary of the agency.

He spoke Wednesday to the Select Joint Commission on Medicaid Oversight, a panel of lawmakers who grilled him about the modernization contract as well as other Medicaid issues.

Roob also said his office will likely break up the rollout of the remaining counties in the project, such as implementing Marion County by itself instead of with others.

Just hours after the oversight meeting, Long Thompson held a news conference to criticize privatization.

She said the FSSA contract specifically isn’t saving the state money and is hurting Hoosiers who are having trouble getting benefits to which they are entitled.

If elected, Long Thompson promised to appoint a bipartisan committee of Hoosiers from various sectors to examine the effectiveness of privatized functions and cost-savings claims. She said all legal options surrounding the contracts would be pursued, including amending, renegotiating, canceling and/or buying out contracts. This includes the $3.8 billion Indiana Toll Road lease.

nkelly@jg.net

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